How to apply for refugee status or asylum in the United States

If you flee your country due to persecution or torture on your country and you have to immigrate to the United States because you fear for your safety, you need to apply for refugee status.

You can apply for refugee status or political asylum, to be able to legally stay in the country and avoid deportation.

The question of how to apply for refugee status or asylum in the U.S can be a nerve-racking question, but there is a way to do it, so you can obtain your legal status and stay in the country with your family and be able to work without breaking the law.

There are steps and conditions that you have to fulfill in order to apply for refugee status or asylum:

Find a lawyer to apply for a refugee status

Find a lawyer to apply for a refugee status

Most lawyers get their clients through referrals, so have to make sure to find an attorney who has good references and a respectable reputation.

Steps to select an attorney

  • Consider every option carefully and choose the one with the best history results.
  • Make sure to read about all the reviews that you can find the good ones and even the bad ones.
  • Find people who went through the same process and have experience and compare the strong and weak points on the lawyer.
  • Bear in mind that you need to find a lawyer that speaks the same language as you or has an interpreter.
  • Check online for the rating of the lawyer and feedback and immigration Websites and make sure the lawyer is specialized in immigration law.
  • Verify the discipline information on the database of practicing attorneys of the state you are located in. you need to know if the attorney was disciplined for dishonesty, fraud or theft.
  • Make a list with the ones that have the best records and results.
  • Assist to consultations with the top ones on your list. There is a first consultation fee and it can be around $50 to $100, but in some cases the first meeting it’s free.

After going through all the process, choose the lawyer that makes you feel comfortable and confident.

Be certain that the court recognizes the persecution you are facing

One of the things that the lawyer is going to help you identify is the kind of persecution that you are facing on your country and if the United States recognizes to grant asylum.

You can apply to a refugee status if you fear persecution and is the persecution has occurred in the past or if you are likely to be persecuted if you stay in your country.

But it has to be sufficiently serious.

There are different types of persecution and not all of them include physical violence. The list includes:

  • Physical violence
  • Genocide
  • Torture
  • Threats
  • Slavery
  • Unlawful imprisonment
  • You can be a target because of:
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinions

Be on the U.S territory for refugee status

One of the main premises to apply for asylum is to be on United States territory. You have to be already living in the U.S or seeking to enter the country at a port or frontier.

It won’t matter if you have or don’t have documents.

If you are detained trying to enter the country, you have to inform the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you are fleeing your country and trying to enter to seek asylum.

Apply for asylum before reaching a year from arrival

You have to start the legal process of soliciting asylum before a 12-month deadline form since arriving in the country.

  • However, there are some exceptions if you passed that year deadline:
  • If the political and human rights conditions have worsened since your arrival to the U.S
  • In case you have medical issues that stop you for making the application
  • If your conditions and family conditions have changed since arriving the U.S. Meaning that you are now a target or persecution or could be harmed.

Confirm that you are not banned from applying

Bear in mind that there are a few exceptions that can bar you from applying for refugee status or asylum

In case you applied before and your application was denied. (Even in that case, if your conditions have changed, you can review options with your lawyer)

You have to also check with your attorney if the U.S has an agreement with a third country where you can be relocated.

Determinate the condition of your application

There are two positions where you can stand when applying for refugee status asylum:


When you make your application procedure voluntarily


When you start your application because you are already facing removal form U.S territory and you need to defend your stay.

The application is very similar in both cases. The main difference is that the “Affirmatively” you are going to be asked to do an interview with a USCIS officer and the “Defensively” is going to be decided by a judge during a court hearing.

Fill the application form for refugee status

Fill the application form for refugee status 

You have to fill out the application I-589 that it’s called “Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal.

  • Have in mind the following requirements:
  • The application is 12 pages long and you can add as much as you need.
  • It must be filled out in black ink pen
  • The language has to be English
  • You have to answer every question and live no spaces in the blank (If you don’t know the answer you have to write “none”, “not applicable” or “unknown”.

Click here for to find the application

Include your spouse and underage children

You can include your spouse and underage children in your application form and for each family member, you have to make a copy.

Also, you have to include:

  • Three copies of the Marriage certificate (A certified translation if the original is not in English)
  • Three copies of the Birth certificate of each child
  • In case that you don’t have these documents, you have to include a signed affidavit (address, phone number, data and how they are related to you) of a person that can give testimony of your legal marriage and your children.

Learn how to write an affidavit here 

Include evidence and written statements

As the I-589 dictates, you have to include documents with the application for refugee status, such as:

Written statements (date, time and data of each time you were harm or threatened)

Include documents that can help verify the events that put you in danger

Collect evidence in your home country

To prove that you are persecuted and put in danger, you have to gather evidence to help prove it.

It can include:

  • Doctor’s statements
  • Newspaper articles
  • Books
  • Photographs
  • Testimony of witnesses (He or she have to give live testimony)
  • Affidavits of witnesses
  • Statements

Make copies of all the documentation

The documentation that you have to present along with the application form must be original, but you have to make as many copies as needed.

  1. Two copies if the Form I-589 and all the attachments (Original with the wet signature)
  2. One additional copy of the Form I-589 for each family member
  3. Evidence of the to prove your relationship with each family member (school records, marriage certificates, birth certificates)
  4. Two copies of the affidavits (In case of)
  5. Photograph of yourself and each family member passport style (taken within 30 days before filing the form)
  6. Three copies of passports and travel documents or yourself and each family member, of the Form I-94: Arrival-Departure Record  and the identification documents (birth certificate, military or national ID cards, driver’s licenses)
  7. Two copies of Form G-28, if you are represented by an attorney

Translate all the documentation to English

Hire a certified translator to translate all the documentation from certificates to evidence. The translation must be accompanied by the translator certificate of competence and include copies of the translation and certificate with all the original documents.

Organize your application and documentation

There is a specific order to follow to submit your application

  1. I-589, on top, with a passport-style photo stapled to Section D.
  2. Your main application will have your photo. The two copies do not need a photo
  3. For each family member for whom you are submitting an additional copy, include a passport-style photo of that person in Section D with that copy
  4. AG-28 (if you are represented by an attorney)
  5. Supplementary sheets and statements
  6. Additional supporting documents
  7. Evidence of your relationship with each family member

Mail the application (when filing affirmatively)

There are four USCIS centers in the U.S to handle the applications for refugee status. Check the jurisdiction where you are located and the instructions here


  1. USCIS Texas Service Center, Attn: Asylum, P.O. Box 851892, Mesquite, TX 75185-1892
  2. USCIS Nebraska Service Center, P.O. Box 87589, Lincoln, NE 68501-7589
  3. USCIS California Service Center, P.O. Box 10881, Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-0881
  4. USCIS Vermont Service Center, Attn: Asylum, 75 Lower Welden Street, St. Albans, VT 05479-0589

File the application to the Immigration court (when applying “defensively”)

In this case, you must take the application form to the court clerk.

The clerk is going to assist you to file the application to the appropriate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Chief Counsel.

Go to your biometrics appointment

Go to your biometrics appointment


You and your family members are going to receive a date by mail to take your biometric data at the local

Application Support Center (ASC) that you must attend to.

The officers are going to take your data:

  1. Photographs
  2. Fingerprints
  3. Signature

Bear in mind the travel restrictions for refugee status

Meanwhile, the case is pending, you are allowed to remain in the United States. If you want to travel outside of the U.S., first you must first get permission from USCIS. If you return to your home country the USCIS will assume that you have abandoned the solicitation.

Be present at your interview or hearing


In the case of filing affirmatively, USCIS will contact you to schedule an asylum interview. Bring a copy of your I-589, identification and any witnesses you want to testify on your behalf. If you don’t speak English you have to bring an interpreter.

Furthermore, if you are filing defensively, the Immigration Court will provide a court date and an interpreter at no cost. Be prepared for questioning